Reports of Marx's Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

Reports of Marx's Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
By Connie Furdeck
from the New Unionist, May 1995, page 2

From the Readers Digest to the Nation, the pundits all tell us that socialism is dead and Marx is no longerrelevant in today's world. What they fail to acknowledge is that the major part of Marx's writing is not about socialism, but about capitalism, and how this system affects our lives.

Although he never described socialism in detail, Marx did lay out some basic principles which show that no Marxist government or society has yet been established anywhere in the world.

The closest approximation was the Paris Commune of 1871, established during the Franco-Prussian War. This was a democratic government organized by the workers of Paris in order to defend their city after their own French leaders had deserted their posts and surrendered to the Prussians. Marx clearly emphasized that although The Commune was a workers' government, it was not socialist.

The Commune was, however, far more democratic than any of the so-called socialist governments of the 20th century have been. Its leaders were electable and recallable by simple majority vote. They received no more pay than the average worker. The Commune established separation of Church and State and abolished the police and military. The city was guarded by the armed people as a whole.

Other principles that Marx held necessary for the attainment of socialism were production for people's needs and use, not for sale and profit; abolition of the wage system; and the replacement of the nation-state.

Marx showed by historical analysis that the nation-state is founded on private property and private control over the means of life. The state, from its origin in the ancient world to govern slave-labor economies, to feudal and finally to capitalist society, has been an instrument of class rule.

The state "is but the executive committee of the ruling class," Marx wrote, and "the existence of the state is inseparable from the existence of slavery." He held that under socialism the political state must die out and some other institution, which he did not describe, would replace it.

In the former Soviet Union, in Sweden, or in any other country claiming to be socialist, you will find Marx's basic principles missing. In the USSR, they retained the wage system and exploitation. They kept the state form of government with its police and military, and with a political party at the top and in charge.

There are many reasons why the Soviets never achieved socialism, but the most important was that Russia was a feudal society in 1917. It had neither the economic base nor the political experience to organize a socialist society.

New Unionist readers know there is a plan for an advanced society beyond capitalism which conforms to the basic principles of Marx.

Economic democracy requires that we, as a society, gain control over the most important part of our lives, our jobs. This idea is right in line with the great American dream of working for oneself.

In 18th- 19th-century America, there was widespread ownership of the land and the tools by which one could make a living. Production was basically carried on by individuals or by very small businesses.

Today, however, the tools of production are socially-operated tools, and we work together cooperatively on the job. So it logically follows that to achieve real democracy we, the people, must socially own and control the tools of production and distribution.

The framework of an economic democracy will be industrial lines of representation, instead of political territorial boundaries. We will extend the vote to the workplace. In every department we will elect our own supervisors and management committees, as well as select representatives to local and national councils of our particular industry. At the center of the nation we will replace the political Congress of politicians with a Congress of working people from all the various industries.

Production and distribution will be planned to meet the needs of society. This will be a society of cooperating interests rather than conflicting material interests. People's priorities, their attitudes about life and their fellow humans, will change in an atmosphere of cooperation. The needs of the environment and consideration for all forms of life will be paramount.

Under capitalism, all workers are economically exploited, although this robbery is well-hidden in the phrase, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work." To understand the robbery, you need to study Marx.

In our new society, we will receive the full product of our labor. Our compensation will be direct, as individual consumers of food, clothing, shelter, recreation, etc., and indirect, as social consumers of roads, schools, parks, and the repair and replacement of the tools of production that we cooperatively own. Socialism will abolish the wage system and thereby correct the imbalance between production and consumption that creates such catastrophic problems under capitalism.

Building an economic democracy is a major undertaking that will require both political and industrial action. We will need to set up a labor party whose sole platform will be a demand for an economic democracy, and at the same time organize a new union movement which will include all wage and salary workers, employed or unemployed. The goal of this New Union will be to enforce the mandate of the majority, as expressed by their vote at the polls, by taking, holding and operating the industries in the interest of society.

Why do we need a twofold plan of action?

The labor party's function is to educate and organize while providing the mechanism for advocating fundamental change. Article 5 of the U.S. Constitution, the amendment clause, gives us, the people, the right to change the government however we deem necessary. By exercising a majority vote for our labor platform, we legitimize our fundamental restructuring of society.

However, a political party that isn't backed up by economic power-in other words, a union of the whole working class-would take office only to lose it to the economic sabotage of the owners. They could shut down production, create mass unemployment, and either force the workers' government out of office or force it to run things their way again. It is this union movement that gives the workers the means of cutting the bosses off from their economic power source at the point of production.

Conditions in the world are critical. If we don't change our society soon, life as we know it may not survive. Here's Marx's analysis:

Under capitalism, almost everything that is produced is produced for profit. The needs of humanity, and the needs of all life, are subordinated to the bottom line. As capitalism gained ascendancy in the world, everything was turned into a commodity to be bought and sold.

Marx showed how the introduction of new machinery and labor-saving methods by one capitalist requires industry-wide imitation by others and results in ever-increasing unemployment. He explained the process by which wealth concentrates into the hands of a few and how small capitalists and independent producers lose their property and fall into the ranks of the working class.

Was Marx right? Today in America, 90% of us work for someone else, and only 5% own all the means of production.

In his great work Capital, Marx shows us that labor is the source of all social wealth. Capital is wealth that has been stolen at the point of production from previous generations of workers.

The U.S. government inadvertently proves that Marx's analysis is correct in its ongoing statistical analysis of industries. The Commerce Department's most recent "Survey of Manufactures" shows that manufacturing workers create almost six times the value of their wages, that is, value added after basic costs have been deducted.

Marx pointed out that the wage system prevents workers, as the great consuming majority, from buying back and using up the mountains of goods they have created. Recognizing this, the 20th-century economist Keynes advised governments to step in and adjust the imbalance.

Since the Great Depression, capitalism has been propped up by government spending. World War II put half the workers in the service, the other half in war production.

Since that time, it has taken numerous small wars and a trumped-up Cold War, with monumental production for waste, for military planes, ammunition and other equipment to be repl aced later with the newest weapons-in other words, massive government spending a la Keynes-to keep an economically and morally bankrupt system going.

The whole idea of balancing the budget, reducing debt and getting the government off the backs of business is as Utopian as it is foolish.

Capitalists, the biggest recipients of government welfare, are not the slightest interested in laissez-faire capitalism. Major corporations benefit from government-funded research and product development free and gratis. Military spending has provided them a steady market for years.

The only time capitalists promote laissez-faire capitalism is when they are trying to take away social programs. They are only interested in eliminating the pittance that goes to their worker victims so they can keep more of the wealth they've robbed from us.

We are at the end of a system. Any real attempt to reduce debt and get the government out of pump-priming the capitalist engine will lead to a depression that will make 1929 look prosperous.

We need an economic democracy now!